Ordinary people are the main victims of the tragic conflict that has unfolded here over the past eighteen months. Day after day the news is of people killed, or maimed for life, and of homes and livelihoods destroyed. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists ï¿½ want to send a clear, unambiguous message to all parties to this conflict, and to the international community. Stop the deliberate targeting of civilians and other persons protected by international humanitarian law. Stop actions that harm them. Immediately deploy international monitors to protect the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis.
As a fully-fledged State and as an Occupying Power, Israel has clear obligations under international law, and in particular under the Fourth Geneva Convention. This Convention provides for security measures that can be taken to protect itself, but these do not include the excesses now undertaken by the Israeli government. We strongly deplore actions by the state of Israel that harm persons protected by international humanitarian law. These include prolonged curfews with severe restrictions on the movement of people and access for medical personnel; intensified collective punishments; wanton damage to homes, cars and civilian property; looting and theft in the course of searches; and the coerced use of civilians to assist military operations. Such actions violate international standards and transcend any justification of military necessity.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has recently declared whole areas, such as Ramallah and Bethlehem, closed military zones, and impeded the entrance of outside observers, including journalists, human rights activists, government officials, United Nations representatives, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The IDF has forcibly entered and ransacked the offices of human rights organizations such as al Haq and LAW. Both Palestinian and Israeli organizations have shown great determination in continuing to work under these circumstances, but it has been almost impossible to verify alarming reports about extra judicial executions, “liquidations” of “wanted” Palestinians, and use of lethal force against civilians and other persons protected by the Geneva Conventions.
As a result of the IDF military operations, hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested. The identities and whereabouts of detainees are not known, and the ICRC has not been allowed access to them, raising concerns about their conditions and treatment. Several released Palestinians have reported that, depending on the IDF unit guarding them, prisoners were at times beaten.
In entire cities and towns, ambulances and emergency medical services have ground to a halt. Medical workers and ambulances have been fired upon. The wounded have been denied access to medical treatment; Palestinians have been killed attempting to reach hospitals for routine medical care. Such abuses raise not simply humanitarian issues: they are serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Even in the face of this situation, we are appalled by an increase in the use of suicide bombers by armed Palestinian groups to attack Israeli civilians. Such deliberate attacks on civilians are absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law. These actions tarnish the Palestinian cause and will not at all help the situation -they only increase the fear and mistrust of ordinary Israelis as well as adding to the suffering in the region. Over the past week there have also been increasing signs of a breakdown in law and order within Palestinian territories as well, including the street-killing of alleged collaborators with Israel.
All these violations must be stopped by those in a position to do so and perpetrators must be brought to justice.
In the face of such a human rights crisis, it is time for the international community to act. Our three human rights organizations welcome the proposal by Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, that the UN Commission on Human Rights send an immediate mission to the area. We also repeat our call for international permanent presence to be dispatched to Israel and the Occupied territories to monitor the situation, restore respect for human rights and humanitarian law standards and to help protect civilians. The international community, and in particular the United States, should exert its utmost influence to ensure that both the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperate with and facilitate the work of these missions. The presence of international monitors does not absolve the relevant parties from their human rights responsibilities or obligations. On the contrary it should help enhance them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, civilian suffering is not inevitable in a time of war or occupation. Ordinary people should never become the target of those with arms. All our organizations have witnessed, documented, and reported a wanton disregard for the right to life over the past eighteen months. Such abuse must stop now. Those who commit such crimes must cease them. And the international community is morally, and legally, obliged to act to ensure respect for such basic humanitarian principles.